LOS ANGELES, CA – The 52nd Saint Sophia Philoptochos Debutante Ball was an elegant and glamorous affair that took place at the world famous Beverly Wilshire Hotel in the heart of Beverly Hills, CA overlooking Rodeo Drive.
Originally, this was named the Coronation Ball and started in 1950 as a means of social interaction and fellowship for first-generation Greek Orthodox immigrant youths and was sponsored by the Hellenic Orthodox Youth of America that is now the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA). Young ladies were nominated and the most popular was elected queen, and she was accompanied by her royal court at the ball. “My dad Ernie Anast and his friend John Pappas were on couple of the coronation ball committees” said Katrina Anast Beers, who is now a co-chair of the Ball. “As the ladies grew older and joined the Philoptochos Society, the mission of the Ball changed from a social gathering to a fundraising event benefiting the various charities. The transformation into the Debutante Ball was a natural progression.” It started as an annual event in 1967 and since 2001 it has become a biannual event with participating parishes originating from all of Southern California.
This year’s Ball introduced sixteen young women from eight parishes who have distinguished themselves in academia, the arts, and most importantly, philanthropy. Some of the young ladies continue on a path previously taken by another member of their family, some start a new tradition.
The National Philoptochos Society is the national philanthropic organization of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and was established in 1931 by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. Today the society has 26,000 members and more than 400 active chapters nationwide. In 1945, the Saint Sophia Philoptochos Society joined the National organization and created the Greek War Relief Program and a special Red Cross Unit. They also established two fundraising events, the Debutante Ball and The Mother’s Day Luncheon and Fashion Show, which are the two major fundraisers for the Society.
Beers, who was a debutante herself, told TNH that the Ball’s core principals are the same as those of Philoptochos: “community service and assistance to the poor, the destitute, the hungry, the orphans and anyone who wants the help or our church.” Some of the many charities who benefit from the generosity of the Philoptochos is the Children’s Medical Fund, Kids’ n Cancer Camps, Saint Nicholas Ranch, The Ecumenical Patriarchate, Orthodox Christian Missions, and locally, the Los Angeles Mission and Lunches for Homeless Children in Hollywood. If some people feel that debutante balls are outdated, Beers is not one of them. “Some may feel that way but I don’t. This is a wonderful opportunity to bring families together and strengthen the young ladies and their families’ commitment to philanthropy.”
She has fond memories of her own time as a debutante. “It is a very special feeling to be presented on the arm of your father and receive your family’s recognition for your efforts. Not to mention the appreciation of hundreds of people who are seen you for the first time at the ball.” The evening began with Beers and co-Chair Georgia Kezios welcoming the attendees to the elegantly decorated ballroom at the hotel and Emcee Perry Lambert, an accomplished singer and comedian, introduced the debutantes and their fathers.
After the presentation, the debutantes danced with their fathers and their escorts to a beautifully choreographed Second Waltz by Shostakovich. Greek music by the Olympians followed. The event requires a long preparation and a substantial financial and time commitment by the debutantes, their families and their escorts. Because the event is an elegant affair “the venue selection is very important, it has to be a draw,” Beers said. The Beverly Wilshire Hotel certainly fits the definition as the hotel has gathered international attention since 1990 as the site of the acclaimed romantic comedy Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. That is why “keeping the budget to the minimum and at the same time making the event memorable is a real challenge,” Kezios said. Ensuring proper and fair seating arrangements for the ball was Cynthia Spears as a reservations chairwoman for the second ball in a row and a former debutante herself. In regards to the future of the debutante ball Co-chair Beers said “My hope is that this tradition and synergy of faith, philanthropy and family will continue and flourish.”
After chairing the last five balls, Beers said that “I am looking forward to hand over the reins to a new leader. As it is our tradition I will be happy to be an advisor to a feature chairperson as past chairpersons were to me.” When she saw the young ladies saying the Lord’s Prayer before they were presented to calm their nerves she was touched “and that to me is a testament of faith and that is what this tradition is all about.” Visiting the cathedral’s web site stsophia.org/ministries/philoptohos you can find more details about the history and philanthropic efforts of the society.